Friday, December 11, 2015

Beyond Shrinking American Middle Class

Pew Research recently published analysis of census data from 1971 to 2015. They discovered that American middle class shrank from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2015. Shrinking middle class has been in the headline for last few days.

What defines middle class ?

Pew's middle class definition is based on income. middle-income” households are defined as those with an income that is 67% to 200% (two-thirds to double) of the overall median household income, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. For 2014, a middle income household earns between $41869 to $125608 for a family of 3.

From the news it sounded that the sky was falling. The truth is more middle class households move up to upper class. The real problem is that median income is decreasing, the lower class is growing, the gap between upper and lower class is growing.

The silver lining in this study is this, for every ethnic group, for every age range,  household with married couple with best education does the best. Highest percentage of households in upper class, least percentage of household in lower class. 

What does this delineate?

Education matters. This finding clearly rebuts the Goldman Saches' research that investment in college education is not worth it. Because of the advancement in technology, college education will be even more important.

Nuclear family matters. Study after study has shown the clear benefits of traditional nuclear family - live longer, happier, and make a good living.  

Those who are  educated with bachelor's degree or higher and married have about 50% of chance to reach upper class (top 20%) by mid 40s!  Despite all the problems we have in this country, it is still the land of opportunities, the land for people who work hard to get a better life. Count our blessings!

Note - 
1) Pew research original report can be found here .
2) Anecdote evidences show that college graduate with engineer degrees walk into middle class rank right out of college, a good percentage of them become upper class, especially those work in high tech companies.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Enchanted Rock

The second stop of our pre-Thanksgiving trip was another Texas' landmark - the Enchanted Rock.

Enchanted Rock is an enormous pink granite pluton batholith located about 70 miles west of Austin Texas. It has an elevation of 1,825 feet, and rises above its surrounding, the Llano uplift basin, by  425 ft. The rock is over one billion year old! It is a very popular place, even on Monday afternoon when we got there,  there was a line at the ranger station for check-in and there was streams of people on the rock.

There are a few trails at Enchanted Rock. The most popular one is the 0.67 mile long summit trail, which lead from the parking lot area trail head to the top of the rock. The longest trail in the park is the 4.25 mile loop trail - which circles around little rock, enchanted rock (big rock) and freshman mountain.
Enchanted rock viewed from summit trail trail head
on the way up
on the top
The enchanted rock and the little rock have extensive exfoliation (i.e. rock falling apart)  at their lower half. Those exfoliated areas provide great opportunities for kids to play and explore without getting lost since one always has a clear sight of the parking lot. Nicholas led the way when we descended from the summit, we deviated from the trail, and hiked into those areas. It was a little bit challenging but pretty exciting. 

Sunrise at enchanted rock
little rock under morning Sun
The loop trail is much less traveled. When we hiked on the trail, we encountered only 3 groups, 4 hikers, a father daughter pair, and two solo lady hikers. The loop trail presents a different vista than the summit trail.  There are a few interesting rock formations along the way. The big rock apparently altered the temperature locally, the south side must be a few degrees higher than north side in winter. The trees and plants on the south side of the rock were green, and there were fall colors on the north side. The loop trail also leads to the moss lake.

Enchanted rock is a great place for hiking and camping, even for families with young children. It also provides a great lesson for natural history of Texas - there are exhibits at ranger station and the summit trail trail head to delineate it.
rock formation 1

rock formation 2

rock formation

north side of the rock

foliage at north side of the rock 
Moss Lake

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hiking and Camping at Lost Maple Natural Area

We finally visited the famed Lost Maple this past beautiful Sunday. It was a great trip despite less than spectacular colors and a very cold night for camping.

Driving to Lost Maple

Instead of the beaten I-35 route, we took the less traveled roads in the hill country, going west first on I-20, then turn to US-83,  followed by US-377, US-83 to get to Lost Maple Natural Area in Vanderpool, TX.

The drive was smooth. Once we got off I-20, the highways were almost empty - we had the roadway all for ourselves most of the time. The road  hugging the hills, went up and down, with vast forest, huge ranches with cattle, horse, donkey, bison, .....along the way. We got a real sense of what hill country means.

Trails and Foliage

Lost Maple has two big loop trails - east trail (4.6 miles) and west trail (4.9 miles), plus a western loop trail at the west end of the park. We hiked on east trail on Sunday afternoon and west trail on Monday morning.
Water and Blue sky make everything looked great
A rare scene of  red maple leaves this year
Big maple trees had orange/brownish leaves due to wet/warm autumn
Maple tress by a pond

Trails at Lost Maple have a good mix of difficulty levels of easy and strenuous.  The strenuous  portion of the trails is naturally formed by loose gravels on dried creek bed on steep slopes. We got good exercise and good foot message by hiking on the trails.

rugged trail

There were not a lot of people on the trails for both times, we fully enjoyed splendid views - Blue Sky, bright sun shine, still spring formed ponds, rock formations.

On Monday morning we were the only hikers on the trail in the early morning for a time, it was so quiet, as we stood still to look around, we heard the maple leaves tumbling down - "ti ta" as a fallen leave hit a leave after another, "ti ta" and "pa" - finally reached the ground.

Monkey Rock

We reserved a primitive camp site but were so very lucky to get a regular site upon check in, a big relief for us all as the closest primitive camp site requires at least a mile of hiking to reach.

We quickly set up the tent  in less than 10 minutes and then went hiking on the east trail.

anchoring the tent with stake
Put on Canopy
Mission Accomplished
It was around 5:30 pm when we got back from hiking, and it was getting pretty cold already.

We were prepared for this cold night - bought firewood, brought extra blankets and winter coats.

camp fire
I started the camp fire while Lily cooked dinner.

We had our sausage, shrimp, and tortilla under bright moon shine accompanied by the sound of the running creek by our tent.

Our sleep was fidgeting interrupted by coldness and baby's cry from a nearby site. When I got up sometime after midnight for relieve, I enjoyed the spectacular  night sky, full of stars when the moon was long set. We were surprised to find everything covered in frost in the morning. But we survived a very cold night.

What an outdoor experience!


1. Primitive camping will require backpacking. We under estimated the difficulty of primitive camping.
2. Cold weather camping is more enjoyable if one is prepared for the cold. We should have brought all of our skiing related clothes, especially heavy socks.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Autumn, Foliage and Thanksgiving

We have had a wet, relatively warm autumn until today. Against the cold strong northern wind, I stepped out of the house on this cloudy morning to look for colors of autumn.

Leaves on many trees just start to change color, some are still green. So every time I did see some bright colors along the streets, in the alleys, or in the backyards, I stopped to take some pictures, frequently I had to wait for a minute or two to allow cloud pass and sun shine on my target for brighter colors. A neighbor's persimmon tree was full of fruit as always,  a tree full of red leaves was spotted between houses in a backyard. Standing under a tree full of  bright yellow leaves made me feel warm on this cold windy morning. The bright red leaves, blue sky, white cloud and green leaves formed a beautiful mosaic of color..... Despite a below average year for autumn colors, I actually enjoyed the foliage during my over one hour wandering in the community because I focused on what were out there, not what could be there. It is the same in life. I am thankful for everything I have - health, family and friends, home and community, life and work.

As I finish this post, this colorful bright sunny Saturday afternoon felt great!

The persimmon tree down the road in my street has another fruitful year.

in the front yard

in the backyard

along the street

The brightest red I saw this morning

by the pond

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dining in China

During our summer trip to China, we tasted Wanzhou Roasted Fish in Sichuan while sight-seeing at Jiu Zhai Gou; we had Beijing Roasted Duck; we enjoyed typical Chinese breakfast of  Da Bing (Chinese Pancake), Youtiao (Fried Flour Stick) and Porridge in a small restaurant by the street; we made and cooked dumplings at grandparent's apartment for the last dinner there of our trip.

Instead of the most famous restaurant for roasted duck - Quan Ju De, at Beijing, we went to Da Dong instead, a new high end restaurant as the guests of Lily's cousin. The private dinning room we used was well decorated and looked neat. The appetizers, the entrees and desserts looked nice and tasted good. (Note - Justin took all the pictures of the dishes at Da Dong)

a private dinning room at Da Dong





decoration on the table

sides for roasted duck


lobster soup

soup - steamed seafood and bitter melon

entree - eggplant

entree - meatballs

entree - fish

slicing roasted ducks by our dinning table
entree - potherb and carrot

sliced roasted duck

Roasted duck

trade marked chopsticks 


The best food we had, however, was Anhui cuisine at Cui Qing Anhui Cuisine in Beijing as the guests of Lily's sister. It was our first time to taste Anhui cuisine, and we tried the well known smelly mandarin fishes - we all loved it!! It smells stinky and tastes great as advertised. 

Grandma cooked all the meals while we stayed at her home except the last dinner  - the men and boys in the room helped her to make the dumplings. Despite that the boys needed some instructions, we made all the dumplings in less than 30 minutes. Eating dumplings is a traditional farewell meal in northern China - helping to make the dumplings made the dinner even more special for everyone.